Legislature fails to pass bonding bill before deadline

The University of Minnesota’s allocation in the infrastructure bill was a point of debate for lawmakers on the last day of the legislative session.

Madeline Deninger

Lawmakers failed to pass a capital infrastructure bill Sunday night, with University of Minnesota funding proving a point of contention. 

The House failed to pass a $2 billion bill with three-fifths majority support Saturday. A $1 billion bill also failed in the Senate Sunday, with lawmakers unable to reach an agreement before the midnight deadline. 

The Senate bill included $85 million for the University, including $55.8 million for general maintenance funding, called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement. 

The University initially asked for $317.2 million in bonding funds, including $200 million in HEAPR, $29.2 million for the Child Development Building renovation, $4.4 million for a renovation to A.B. Anderson Hall on the Duluth campus, $65.6 million for a new chemistry teaching laboratory, and $18 million for construction and renovation for clinical research facilities. 

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said HEAPR projects are “shovel-ready” and could create jobs quickly. 

“I think that a bonding bill right now really needs to prioritize shovel-ready projects. And I’m not so sure right now that this bonding bill does.” Pappas said on the Senate floor. “What is shovel-ready is HEAPR.” 

Pappas introduced an amendment that increased funding for higher education and other priorities, including raising the University’s allocation to around $224 million. That amendment was found to be not in order with Senate procedure. 

Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, said more funding was needed for HEAPR projects. Failing to fund maintenance projects now will be more expensive in the long-run, he said. 

“We do not understand the seriousness or the gravity of this situation that we’ve allowed these buildings to go into such disrepair,” Isaacson said on the Senate floor. 

Sen. David Senjem, chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said the bill would create much-needed jobs. Senjem, who authored the bill, said the bill’s emphasis for higher education was HEAPR, both for the University and the Minnesota State system. The Minnesota State system was also allocated $85 million in the bill. 

As required by the state’s constitution, the Legislature adjourned Monday at midnight without having passed a bonding bill. Legislative leaders have indicated Gov. Tim Walz will call for a special session June 12 to address unfinished business. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said bonding would be a top priority going into the special session. 

“The bonding bill is the one I’m particularly disappointed in,” he said in a Monday press conference. “That one’s going to special session that I am committed to seeing it through to the end.”

Gazelka said legislative leaders will continue to negotiate a bonding deal ahead of the special session next month.